Art Deco was not only a trend in interior décor. It was a cultural movement in architecture, graphics, cinema, and the graphic arts. At its unique best, Art Deco has burned iconic images in our cultural memory.
There’s the incredible Chrysler Building where style brought elegance to mid-Manhattan in 1931. It was built before the Empire State Building but years after the futuristic Brooklyn Public Library (1912).
Arts Décoratifs rejected excesses of the Baroque and Beaux Arts schools. The portraits by Gustav Klimt, the colorful work of Max Weber, the sleek glass sculpture of Renee Lalique, they all left their marks on the era and the trends that opened.
It was a time of gorgeous movie theatres with arched ceilings, sculptured detail, and gilded features. But, Art Deco designed the films themselves. Scenic Decorators came into their own as film production moved on beyond painted backdrops.
Cedric Gibbons designed the look of Grand Hotel (1932). Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Karl Vollbrecht created the extraordinary sets for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) with Charlie Chaplin. And, Hans Drier designed the look and feel of Oscar Preminger’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). If it’s easier, you only must remember the films as old as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Busby Berkley musicals or as recent as Blade Runner and Star Wars.
Art Deco brought Art Noveau into the machine age of flight, automobiles, ocean liners, and speed. It emphasized geometric lines: seemingly infinite horizontal and vertical lines, radiating sunbursts, stepped ziggurats, trapezoids, curves, chevrons, and more. It brought aluminum, plastic, horn, stainless steel, and exotic natural and synthetic fabrics.
The designers created drama with large proportions mirrored repetition of patterns. Mirrors and metallics dominated. Roughly dated from 1925 to 1945, Art Deco was never shy about making a big statement if only a monochromatic palette for stunning art, statuary, or furniture.
Take the Lamont lighting fixture, for example. It’s a “globe” formed by pentagons, each defined by antique brass and holding a white acrylic panel. It is 16-inches by 16.75-inches and hangs 48-inches from the ceiling.
Geometric, metallic, and white, it’s the merger of machine age modern with elegant styling. Look how it illuminates these settings with its bold colors, tall verticals, curved lines, and interesting art.
Then, there’s the majestic Cassian, straight out of the Art Décor set designer’s catalog. An elegant, imposing, and dramatic chandelier, it’s something of a grand tradition brought into the contemporary.
Tiers of geometric beaded-glass tubes hang from dainty antique brass hooks 40-inches from its base and 25.5-inches across. How handsome it hangs in the solarium pictured here, yet how right it is for the personal dressing room, too.
Closing on the third decade of the 21st-century, we are chasing another mid-century period. Art Deco so surrounded people throughout the past century, it’s enduring features will continue to define the future that surrounds us.